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Artful healing.

Last September, shortly after the opening of school, we were faced with the major challenge and huge national emergency of the terrorist attacks.

While dealing with shock and grief, I turned to my middle school students, knowing they needed opportunities to discuss and express the events. I tried to offer reassurance and refection to my classes. I struggled to help them deal with their thoughts and responses, and attempted to offer a calm and safe environment.

Artists have recorded historic events for centuries. Through art, the meaning of an event is given concrete visual form. Colors, materials, and symbols are combined to heighten feelings, stir memories, invite participation, and encourage communication.

Our Artful Expression

In reacting to the events of September 11, we talked about the police, firefighters, and medical, and emergency personnel who labored with determination to save the lives of others. How could we visually make a statement about their valor and bravery?

As we brainstormed the issues and social statements students wanted to illustrate, I suggested using positive and uplifting points of view. Students were asked to carefully consider all the impressions, but to keep tolerance issues foremost, turning away from hatred and ethnic, religious, or national stereotyping.

We discussed how to create a drawing, painting, or poster that would illustrate our feelings, hopes, and fears. We considered different ways to use colors, symbols, and words to send messages about the event and communicate cultural awareness.

Critiquing the Work

As students critiqued the body of work, they observed that the images portrayed were realistic, symbolic, serious, powerful, emotional, and often patriotic. Although the twin towers of the World Trade Center were reflected most often in their work, students noted that patriotism, freedom, and democracy were evident in the symbolic use of the flag, its stars, the Statue of Liberty, and future dreams.

Collectively, students developed the following statement summarizing their thoughts about the body of work that they had created: "The process of making art as a means of reacting to this tragic moment was a cathartic, healing expression, and the display of the artwork helped to unify us all. It reminded us of our nation's image of itself as a shining democracy, a land where liberty-loving people of various backgrounds could work together to achieve greatness."


Students use subjects, themes, and symbols that demonstrate knowledge of contexts, values, and aesthetics that communicate intended meaning in artworks.

Gloria Schelling is an art teacher at Tredyffrin Easttown Middle School in Berwyn, Pennsylvania.
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Author:Schelling, Gloria
Publication:School Arts
Date:Sep 1, 2002
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